Blurred vi­sion a win­ner

Barry Oliver re­veals how a Syd­ney ar­chi­tect found a new slant on the har­bour city’s most fa­mous build­ing

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel -

AS an ar­chi­tect, Charles Fortin knows a thing or two about build­ings. He also knows quite a bit about pho­tograph­ing them, judg­ing from his win this week in a com­pe­ti­tion run by the Syd­ney Opera House. Fortin, 30, from McMa­hons Point on Syd­ney’s lower north shore, emerged tri­umphant from 2150 en­tries world­wide with his highly un­usual shot of what must be one of the world’s most pho­tographed build­ings.

The brief for would-be pho­tog­ra­phers was to come up with some­thing dif­fer­ent: what the judges didn’t want was an­other shot of the Opera House with the Har­bour Bridge in the back­ground. Let your imagination run wild, they were told. The only rule was that pho­to­graphs had to be of the build­ing’s ex­te­rior. ‘‘ We want pho­tog­ra­phers to sur­prise and amaze the judges,’’ was the mes­sage from Syd­ney Opera House chief ex­ec­u­tive Richard Evans.

Fortin cer­tainly did that with PhantomoftheOpera (his ti­tle), a pho­to­graph taken from a mov­ing ferry on his way home from work one evening. It was one of five that he en­tered, the max­i­mum al­lowed un­der the com­pe­ti­tion rules.

Dig­i­tal ma­nip­u­la­tion was per­mit­ted but Fortin shuns such shenani­gans: ‘‘ I’m very strict about what I do to my pho­tos.’’ In­stead he sim­ply shook his Canon cam­era to achieve the de­sired ef­fect. ‘‘ Af­ter sev­eral at­tempts at shoot­ing the Opera House from a mov­ing ferry, I de­cided to cre­ate a shot that would utilise the ferry’s move­ment rather than try­ing to fight it. By mov­ing the cam­era along the ferry’s path of travel you get this phan­tom-like im­pres­sion nat­u­rally, and without post­pro­cess­ing en­hance­ment.’’ He also says a new $1400 lens helped pro­duce the re­quired re­sult.

The com­pe­ti­tion, House in Fo­cus, was in­tended to en­cour­age peo­ple to share their in­ter­pre­ta­tions of the build­ing and was the re­sult of a long-stand­ing re­la­tion­ship be­tween the Opera House and Hewlet­tPackard. En­tries were shown on­line, us­ing Hewlet­tPackard’s Snap­fish web­site, with the ini­tial vot­ing by the pub­lic. The top 10 con­tenders were then judged by Jan Ut­zon, son of the Dan­ish ar­chi­tect Joern Ut­zon, who de­signed the much-loved build­ing; pho­tog­ra­pher Eric Sierens, di­rec­tor of Max Du­pain and As­so­ci­ates; and Michael Men­den­hall, se­nior vice-pres­i­dent and chief mar­ket­ing of­fi­cer of Hewlett-Packard.

Jan Ut­zon said he was im­pressed by the num­ber of novel ways the build­ing was por­trayed by en­trants. So, does he have a favourite view? ‘‘ Hav­ing lived with the build­ing for al­most all of my life makes choos­ing a par­tic­u­lar view im­pos­si­ble. For me the build­ing is the whole or­gan­ism, in­side and out.

‘‘ This is the main rea­son for choos­ing the winning im­age. It shows noth­ing, it shows ev­ery­thing. It is like an im­pres­sion­ist paint­ing. It lets your mind pro­duce the im­ages and fill in the gaps.

‘‘ The mo­tif was de­picted in so many beau­ti­ful and orig­i­nal ways that one could find a win­ner in many dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories. How­ever, the winning shot shows the Opera House in a sub­lim­i­nal way. It shows the spirit of the build­ing, a par­al­lel to the im­pres­sion­is­tic sketches my fa­ther sub­mit­ted for the Opera House com­pe­ti­tion in 1957.’’

Hewlett-Packard’s Men­den­hall agreed and said Fortin’s pho­to­graph was a clear win­ner. ‘‘ It shows move­ment, ex­cite­ment, vi­brancy and an in­no­va­tive ap­proach. He ob­vi­ously gave it a lot of thought and did a great job.’’

Al­though the con­test at­tracted en­tries from 25 coun­tries, as far afield as Malaysia and Colom­bia, Fortin lives lit­tle more than a stone’s throw from the Opera House and the two run­ners-up are also from Syd­ney.

He was tak­ing a break ski­ing at Per­isher Blue in the NSW Snowy Moun­tains when he learned of his win, which earns him a Hewlett-Packard HP Touchs­mart desk­top com­puter. In ad­di­tion, his im­age will be put on a large-scale can­vas and dis­played in the west­ern foyer of the Opera House through­out Septem­ber, and he also re­ceives a big can­vas of his winning en­try. Run­ners-up James O’Toole from Narrabeen and Ali­cia Hig­gins from Pyr­mont each win a gen­er­ously pro­por­tioned can­vas of their im­age, a roof tile from the Opera House col­lected dur­ing construction, and a copy of Build­ing a Mas­ter­piece: The Syd­ney Opera House .

The win­ner, born in Canada, has lived in the city for three years. He es­ti­mates he took about 500 pho­to­graphs of the build­ing for the com­pe­ti­tion: ‘‘ I just kept shoot­ing and shoot­ing and even­tu­ally I got a cou­ple that stood out.’’

The ferry ride gave him the van­tage point he was seek­ing. ‘‘ Ac­tu­ally it was quite frus­trat­ing be­cause I was try­ing to get a nice depth shot and couldn’t get it right. So I thought, OK, I’ll try some blurry ones. It was lucky that the dis­tance of the ferry was just right. It all worked per­fectly.’’

As for his $1400 lens, Fortin says he never imag­ined spending so much money, but it proved to be a wise in­vest­ment. ‘‘ It’s very good for night shots. As you can see from the im­age, it re­ally cap­tures a lot of dif­fer­ent shades of light.’’ (En­thu­si­asts might like to know he used a Canon 400D with a 50mm 1.2 lens at an aper­ture of 1.2, tim­ing 1.3 sec­onds, and ISO100.)

Fortin de­scribes him­self as a keen am­a­teur pho­tog­ra­pher, tak­ing ‘‘ eas­ily 300 to 400 shots a week’’. ‘‘ It’s a hobby. I just love it. I’m re­ally happy to shoot when­ever I get the chance.

‘‘ My ap­proach was that the Opera House has been shot so many times, and so many pro­fes­sion­als will do it per­fectly, that I’m go­ing to have to do some­thing to make it hap­pen, tweak­ing it or mak­ing it blurred. There was a lot of luck in­volved.’’

He ad­mits to a love of the Opera House that partly stems from his work.

‘‘ Build­ings are like peo­ple, they have per­son­al­i­ties . . . the Opera House al­ways re­minds me that it’s some­times im­por­tant to take a chance on de­sign.’’



Pic­ture: Bob Fin­layson

In the pic­ture: Charles Fortin in front of the much-pho­tographed Opera House

Our house: Fortin’s winning pho­to­graph, , top, taken from a Syd­ney ferry at night, and one of hun­dreds that he shot for the com­pe­ti­tion; and the

run­ners-up, by James O’Toole, cen­tre, and Ali­cia Hig­gins, above

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